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Judge OKs grain elevator demolition, opens door for preservationist appeal and new offer

"This would be a way we could take responsibility and actually take care of the building," said Jessie Fisher, Preservation Buffalo Niagara's executive director.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's been nine months since the Great Northern Grain Elevator had part of its brick façade collapse in a wind storm.

Thursday was supposed to be the start of an up to eight-month demolition process but a court ruling and a new offer to lease the property have presented new opportunities for preservationists to save it.

“This would be a way we could take responsibility and actually take care of the building,” said Jessie Fisher, the executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN).

While the owner of the property Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has been cleared to start demolition, Preservation Buffalo Niagara has, at the 11th hour, asked to lease the historic grain elevator instead of buying it outright and/or forcing the company to keep it standing on their own dime.

Both repeated legal action and offers to buy the property have fallen on deaf ears, but this third possible solution Fisher sees as a middle ground. Preservation Buffalo Niagara would take responsibility for annual inspections and maintenance of the historic structure, while ADM retains ownership.

Preservationists have blamed the company for not taking care of the building, that they were responsible for and for letting it fall into disrepair without repercussions from the City of Buffalo.

“Most of the talk from other preservationist organizations has been adversarial. They've been demanding in court or other ways that ADM sort of step up and do the right thing. What we're offering is a partnership where ADM could meet some of their goals, at the same time the community is meeting some of theirs,” Fisher said.

In a statement sent to 2 On Your Side after the story aired, an ADM spokesperson said it learned of the offer to lease the Great Northern Elevator through media reports but said that their CEO had not yet received the request. The request in the form of a letter was shared via press release Thursday morning with 2 On Your Side.

The ADM spokesperson continued:

“The fact is that the elevator constitutes a safety hazard and is beyond repair, a reality that has been clear to us, the City of Buffalo, and a court in its rulings upholding the city’s demolition permit. As a result of these rulings, the City’s Emergency Demolition Order is in full effect, and we are continuing to move forward with safely dismantling the facility.”

That court ruling mentioned in ADM’s statement was also made Thursday by Erie County Supreme Court Judge Emilio Colaiacovo, who had been deciding on the case since July.

As he previously ruled, Judge Colaiacovo denied a different preservation group, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo’s request for a preliminary injunction of the demolition permit issued by Permits and Inspections Commissioner James Comerford, who retired last December.

In his ruling, Colaiacovo stated, “given the record now fully developed, the Court has no basis to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, as his determination is neither arbitrary, capricious nor contrary to the law.”

While the ruling gives ADM the ability to proceed with demolition, it also opens the door for an appeal by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo in the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Rochester.

Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman told 2 On Your Side his organization would be filing all paperwork as soon as possible and would request a stay of Judge Colaiacovo’s decision while they appeal.

However, until that stay is granted demolition can proceed.

Documents filed with the Buffalo Permit and Inspections Office lay out how Empire Building Diagnostics in Lackawanna plans to slowly topple the 125-year-old structure. With a 165-foot crane crews will first knock down the brick facade and then one by one remove the steel containers inside the elevator which were used for grain storage.

During this period of limbo Fisher from Preservation Buffalo Niagara still hopes that ADM will consider her organization’s offer to lease the property and keep it around for future generations.

“I just think if we can find a way to save it, in 20 years nobody will look back and say I can't believe we tore down that amazing building.”

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